For Capriana Jiang ’23, quarantine means a packed house.
She’s been at home in San Jose with her parents, brother, cousin, two dogs, and pet chickens since University of Puget Sound classes went online in March. So, when the Matelich Scholar decided to start a new project she called Mask-ER-Aid, coordinating the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers at a nearby hospital, it felt right that it was a family effort.
That effort began long before the pandemic. “My grandma taught me how to sew when I was 4. She works at a summer camp and teaches sewing,” says Jiang. “I started out on the easy stuff. I would make stuffed animals and little phone pouches and pillows.”
Jiang wasn’t making face masks at summer camp, but she says the skill helped her start Mask-ER-Aid. “Sewing is kind of a hard skill to come by, and everyone has a part to play in the pandemic. You need to be able to utilize the special skills that you have to help out in any way that you can. I felt like this was my way of helping out, and it feels good to know that it is making a difference.”
For the pre-med sophomore, making a difference means coordinating deliveries of thousands of pieces of sewn and 3D-printed personal protective equipment, including masks, bouffants (a type of surgical cap), and mask tension relievers from 20 makers on her team. When she’s not coordinating production or running the Mask-ER-Aid Facebook group with more than 100 members, Jiang gets her hands busy sewing alongside her mother. Her brother Trenton, who’s a junior in high school, works as a courier of sorts—picking up the completed items and delivering them to workers at Valley Medical Center in San Jose. Jiang says her dad is always around for moral support. “It’s a group effort,” she says.
Mask-ER-Aid is helping protect essential workers in California, but it was Jiang’s experience in Tacoma that sparked the idea. When the biology major isn’t busy with coursework or playing lacrosse, she uses her skills as a certified EMT to volunteer in the emergency department at Tacoma General Hospital and at Neighborhood Clinic Tacoma. Her duties span from stocking linens and tubes in patient rooms to clinical support. “When I’m [at Neighborhood Clinic Tacoma], I do a lot of patient intake, reading over charts. I take preliminary vitals and ask patients their chief complaint, finish paperwork, and then hand that over to a nurse or a doctor.” The 19-year-old took a class last summer to become a certified EMT. “For a while, I thought I wanted to do pre-med, and I partially took that class as a way to make sure I still wanted to do pre-med—which I do.”
When the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases started to spike in the Northwest in early March, Jiang got a call. “Tacoma General reached out to its volunteers looking for sewers to make masks and other PPE, but I didn’t have my sewing machine and I ended up coming back to the Bay Area. We have a contact at Valley Medical Center, so I reached out to see if they needed a similar thing here. He said they needed thousands of masks, so I got to work,” she says.
Jiang and her brother delivered their first donation to Valley Medical Center on March 23. Since then, the Mask-ER-Aid team has donated more than 4,200 PPE items. “It’s been really amazing. I think our goal now is to keep making masks, keep making bouffants until [Valley Medical Center] says they don’t need any more,” Jiang says. “That would be a great goal to accomplish.”
Watch Capriana Jiang ’23 and her brother deliver more than 380 masks to Valley Medical Center in one day:
by Kelsey Caulfield
Photos and video courtesy of Capriana Jiang ’23
Published Aug. 2, 2020